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Anderson Funeral Homes to mark 100 years with dinners for Rugby, Towner

By Sue Sitter - | Oct 2, 2021

Sue Sitter/PCT Hallie Anderson, great-granddaughter of John E. Anderson, founder of Anderson Funeral Homes, stands next to her mother, Sharon Anderson-Stork, and her stepfather, Anderson Funeral Homes owner John Stork.

The Anderson Funeral Homes of Rugby and Towner have invited the public to join them for dinner to celebrate their 100th anniversary Oct. 7 and 8.

The Rugby celebration will take place at the Rugby Eagles from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. The dinner in Towner will be served at the Gallows Bar and Grill Oct. 8 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

“The community has been great. The same with Towner,” owner John Stork said.

Stork is the stepfather of Hallie Anderson, great-granddaughter of Anderson Funeral Homes’ founder, John E. Anderson.

The elder Anderson had homesteaded in Pierce County in 1900 after moving to the area from Racine, Wis., according to information provided by Stork and the Anderson family. A stonemason by trade, John E. Anderson operated a dairy and owned a team of bay horses.

W.J. Holbrook, who had established Rugby’s first funeral parlor in 1890, used Anderson’s team to pull his hearses. Holbrook encouraged John to pursue a career as a mortician. He then returned to Racine to study mortuary science before returning to Rugby and working alongside Holbrook as an undertaker. John soon purchased the funeral parlor from Holbrook, who retired.

After taking ownership of the funeral home in 1921, John located his business in several buildings around Rugby before building a new funeral home from fieldstone in 1936. He located the new funeral home on Third Street Southwest, where it has been ever since. Other stone structures built by Anderson include a home next to the present-day business; a home on the corner of Second Avenue Southwest and Fourth Street Southwest and a stone border wall at Persilla Watts Cemetery.

John also worked with funeral parlor owner Nels Erickson in Towner. Years later, the Anderson family would establish a funeral home there.

The business offered more than undertaking and funeral services. Early newspaper advertisements for the funeral home show Anderson offered furniture, picture framing and wallpaper, “usually because they had to. A lot of times, they made their own caskets,” Stork said.

The Anderson Funeral Home in Rugby also provided an ambulance service to the community for many years.

John’s son, Harold T. Anderson, followed in his father’s footsteps, earning his embalmer’s license in 1927. Harold purchased a furniture store in Maddock, expanding it to include undertaking services. After operating Anderson Furniture and Undertaking Company there for many years, he sold the business. He bought his father’s funeral home in February of 1946. Harold remodeled one of his father’s stone buildings near the funeral home, adding a six-apartment complex. He also expanded the garage, added a warehouse and made other improvements. Harold enlisted the help of Elroy Paterson and Quinten Jelsing for the project.

A third generation joined the business in 1960. Harold’s son, Richard, built a new funeral home for Towner, in 1961. The structure, called “The Chapel of the Cross,” is “an integral part of Anderson Funeral Homes,” according to Stork.

The Anderson family’s business expanded.

“They also owned and operated funeral chapels in Leeds, Upham and Willow City over their years together,” Stork wrote in a history of the business.

In 1967, Harold retired and sold the business to Richard. Richard would sell the business to Phillip G. Martin in 1981. However, he would remain a part of the business until 2006.

In 1999, Martin sold the business to Stork, who owns it today.

Stork said the business and industry have seen lots of changes since 1921.

“We’ve gone from home funerals to a funeral home. That’s the biggest change,” Stork said. “In this area, our clientele is still connected to churches, so much of our funerals are church-based. But what’s starting to happen is more people in the family are getting involved, which is good. And they’re doing different things. That’s a good evolution, too.”

Anderson Funeral Homes have seen lots of changes as well. Each generation has made a different impression on the community.

Stork, who grew up in Iowa, married into the family after Richard Anderson and his wife, Sharon, divorced. Richard had four children, two from his marriage to Sharon and two from a previous marriage. Richard died in 2015.

Although Richard had sold his business and divorced Sharon, who later married Stork, he still stayed on Anderson Funeral Homes’ staff, retiring in 2006. The Andersons and their blended families even celebrated holidays together.

Three of Richard’s four sons have pursued careers as funeral directors. One son, Mitchell, decided on a career in the military.

Richard’s daughter, Hallie is the youngest of the Anderson children. As an intern, Hallie works under Stork’s supervision to provide services ranging from caring for grieving families to embalming the dead.

“I grew up with this as a kind of second home, as John knew when he started here,” Hallie said, laughing. Hallie’s mom, Sharon Anderson-Stork, and her husband were often at work, and Hallie would spend lots of time in the Rugby business to visit, borrow stamps or even borrow a car.

“It was second nature,” Hallie said. “We always had the funeral home phone when we weren’t at work. My dad would have the funeral home phone forward calls to our house. So, the funeral home phone was always something that was ringing in my head. It was something we grew up with. So, my mom and dad taught me and my brothers, you accept everybody, you love everybody and everybody matters, so, that’s just kind of how you grew up.”

Hallie left for college, where she studied journalism at Morehead State University in Morehead, Minn.

However, her thoughts were always on her family business. “This is what I always knew I wanted to do,” she said.

“I came here in 2010 because my dad was getting older. I worked at the Tribune for a little while in advertising, then John was nice enough to give me a job here, and the rest is history,” Hallie said.

Hallie said she was grateful for the opportunity to explore different parts of the country as a journalist before moving back to her small hometown “because then I could explore what I wanted to. I would not have been ready to come back to Rugby before I did. This was meant to be.”

Hallie had worked in the office of Rugby’s Anderson Funeral Home for a few years when a brush with breast cancer and a conversation with her brother convinced her to pursue her funeral director’s license.

“They tell you during chemo you should not make life decisions but I made a lot of big decisions during that time, because you realize life’s short, so go for it,” Hallie said.

Hallie enrolled in mortuary college for online classes. “I was in Rochester for six weeks for radiation and there were three classes I had to take as prerequisites before I could get accepted into the mortuary program. So, I took those there, then continued on,” she said.

“It was probably the best decision I made,” Hallie said.

Hallie said she’s faced a few challenging times in the business.

“My dad never talked about work at home,” she said. “He never brought work home. Because there are a lot of sad times. One time, a man a couple of years older than me got into a car accident. I had only been here a few years. It was probably 2013 or 2014. I remember seeing his parents come in. John met with the family. I saw the look in his dad’s eyes and I’ll never forget that. I knew this gentleman also. So, that was probably one of the hardest days I’ve had. I drove to Towner that night and called my dad. I asked, ‘How do you do this? How do you not lose it?’ He just said, ‘Do it now. And when the time comes for the service, you’ve gotten it out of your system. You’re okay and you’re ready to meet them with your funeral face.’ You’ve got to put on your funeral face.”

“And then,” Hallie added, “There are times I think it’s okay not to have your funeral face on.”

Stork nodded. “Then there are times you can’t let yourself get into that grief because you’ll be no help to the family.”

Hallie said other experiences have proved rewarding for her.

She said she used an opportunity “to think outside of the box” when Rugby resident Stacy Jaeger died at the beginning of the global COVID pandemic.

“It was a time when you didn’t know what to do. You wanted to honor every life, but there was a young mom, and everyone in the community wanted to do something but they didn’t know what to do. They wanted to do something to show their support for her, but because of COVID, you couldn’t do anything.”

Hallie noticed ribbons of green – Jaeger’s favorite color – placed on different structures in the community. She talked with Jaeger’s friends and encouraged them to ask residents to line up along the route from Jaeger’s home to Anderson Funeral Home as a show of support for the Jaeger family. Anderson Funeral Home provided a guestbook and card box for mourners outside of their door.

“I don’t think helping people I know with grief is so much a challenge as there’s nothing I’d rather do. I don’t look at it as a challenge. It’s more that I’m so thankful I get to do this,” Hallie said. “My heart is completely there. So, I don’t find it as a job. It’s just that there’s nothing I’d rather do.”

Hallie’s mother, Sharon, agreed. “This is the most rewarding job I’ve ever done,” she said. “As far as our 100th (anniversary), there aren’t many businesses in Rugby that have been in business 100 years. That’s pretty exciting. Now, with Hallie coming in for a fourth generation, that was always John’s dream, that an Anderson would come back and take this business when he was done. And here she is.”

“When John came in ’99 and took over the funeral home, I was a sophomore in high school. I wasn’t really thinking about the future. I wasn’t thinking who was going to be here after John. Now that I’ve been here for the past 10 years, I could not imagine we’d be sitting here today if it wasn’t for John,” Hallie said. “It’s like this was meant to be.”

“It was 20 years in the making and half of that, 10 years, with all of us coming together. There are three separate families, but we’re all together,” Stork said, nodding and smiling.

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